The real issue of the election was not how to count the Florida votes. That game had been played many times before in major cities where the outcome of close elections had to be secured. No, the real issue was played out in the Supreme Court of Florida and of the United States. It is still being displayed in the United States Senate over who will be the Attorney General and thereby interpret the United States Constitution.
We saw two courts, one state and one federal, divide their opinions over a new issue. It was not just that some judges were appointed by Democrats and some by Republicans. That mattered some. Nor was it just that some were liberal and some were conservative. That mattered more. The real issue was, and is, the text of the Constitution itself. That historical document and the very words written two hundred years ago can now be taken in one of two ways. Either the United States Constitution is a fixed document or it is a fluid document.
A judge may be a strict constructionist and believe the Constitution should be taken as the writers and founders intended. This means that he must study its historical context and setting to determine what the framers meant by the text they wrote. Then he must apply the meaning of that text to the situation before him. Judges with this point of view talk about this process as “the rule of law.”
On the other hand, a judge may be a fluid constructionist and believe the Constitution is a fluid document that has been evolving and changing over the last two hundred years. Not that the words on the page have changed, but their original meaning can no longer be ascertained (nor needs to be). The only meaning available to a reader today is today’s meaning. Rather than the culture changing to conform to the text, the text changes to conform to the culture. If today’s culture rejects the Judeo-Christian ethic, the Constitution must be read to reject it also.
Too often, this differentiation defines Republican and Democrat, conservative and liberal, Christian and non-Christian. But the bottom line is the old or new view of writing and syntax, the old or new view of history and context, the old or new view of culture and ethnology, the old or new view of morality and religion.
If this seems a “stretch” to you, consider what French postmodernist Jean-Francois Lyotard wrote in 1979:
The adviser thus faces a major conflict, in some ways reminiscent of the split introduced by the Kantian critique between knowing and willing: it is a conflict between a language game made of denotations answerable only to the criterion of truth, and a language game governing ethical, social, and political practice that necessarily involves decisions and obligations, in other words, utterances expected to be just rather than true and which in the final analysis lie outside the realm of scientific knowledge.1
We are now reaping the results of half a century of such deconstructionist philosophy.
Christians have always had to contend with the anti-theistic trends in the country in which they lived. Our grandfathers did at the turn of the last century when German Rationalism came across the sea from Europe in the form of Modernism and attacked the Scriptures as being the Word of God. That was a (so-called) scientific attack based on historical and archaeological studies. Our grandfathers fought back, arguing better and sounder science, history and archaeology and they won the day.
But (as we flippantly parrot today) “the rules have changed.” If ever David’s words applied they apply now, If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do? (Psa 11:3). We are not fighting Modernists. The new Postmodernists despise their Modernist fathers and grandfathers. They see Modernism as a brief and flawed phenomenon in the history of thought. Modernism used scientific method and logically constructed language to reach conclusions. This is no longer valid. The Word of God need not be attacked as unhistorical, unscientific, or even uninspired. All of those foundations for discussion have been removed by this generation. There is no language nor history nor science. Everything is in a state of fluid change and “becoming.”
The end of language
The most philippic attack on language itself has been by French linguist Jacques Derrida. His proposition is that meaning is transferred from a) the original “thing” (the “signified”); to b) the thought (“signifier”) about the thing; to c) the sound of a voice speaking about the thing; to d) the writing down of the thing. In each instance, some meaning is lost. In order for you to transfer your (wider) thoughts into (narrower) words, you are forced to drop some of the meaning about your thought. To Postmodernists like Derrida, this shows that no writing can possibly transfer the original meaning. Derrida calls this loss of meaning “The original sin of writing.”2 And he sees all language, spoken or written, as a perversion of meaning. He says, “There is therefore a good and a bad writing: the good and natural is the divine inscription in the heart and the soul; the perverse and artful is technique, exiled in the exteriority of the body.”3 That is, only the original thought (the “signified”) is good, every attempt to express it (the “signifier”) is bad.
If you made it through the last paragraph, congratulations! You can see why cultural watchers say things like, “They have, in good postmodernist fashion, abandoned the classical conception of truth and are simply playing with various contortions of consciousness.”4 Ironically, the very seriousness of this subject creates every reaction from ridicule to emulation. It becomes hard to believe that our national institutions, our schools and even our churches are affected. One professor writes, “Postmodernist tenets may seem academic and somewhat arcane, but they are being taught throughout contemporary universities. The new generation of college graduates has been immersed in this kind of thinking. Our new teachers, journalists, lawyers, judges, and political leaders have been indoctrinated.”5
The end of history
It is not a large jump from the end of language to the end of history. If we cannot really transfer truth “absolutely” in the form of language, how can we know anything that has been recorded as history? Most of history we learn by reading what someone wrote about events that happened. Add to this dilemma the “hermeneutics of suspicion,” that most of history was written by the powerful in order to control the weak. Those that controlled the governments, the religions, the institutions of business, recorded the history in a way that would continue to be advantageous to them. Of course, this history must be “deconstructed” by looking beyond the actual text and discovering these cultural motives.
Veith points out how this applies to the documents of our nation:
Consider, for example, the Declaration of Independence. . . Although the text speaks of equality, its language excludes women (“all men are created equal”). Although it speaks of liberty , its author, Thomas Jefferson, owned slaves. The surface meaning of equality and freedom is completely contradicted by the subtext, which denies equality and freedom to women and minorities.6
In other words, the Declaration and the Constitution must not be taken as they were written. They must be deconstructed. And when they are, deconstructionists can usually find whatever agenda they set out to find. The original meaning is lost, irrelevant, and biased.
Is there a conclusion?
Christians have much reason to be alarmed. Our faith is based on an historical event: the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the integrity of the historical record (the Bible) of that event. We cannot separate the Jesus of history (what really happened) from the Jesus of faith (what we want to believe happened). And we cannot negotiate with the text of the Scripture. This is why Christians will increasingly be seen as a danger to the new way of thinking. Dan Story summarized it this way, “Christianity and Christian ethics are no longer relevant. In fact, orthodox Christians are seen as bigoted, narrow-minded, and anti-intellectual because we refuse to accept other religions as ‘paths to God’ or to consider homosexuality, pornography, or abortion as permissible in a moral society.”8
But we need not fear for the truth of Christianity. For we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth (2 Cor 13:8). We must fear rather for a generation from whom the words of Scripture will be concealed. But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost (2 Cor 4:3). The new battle for the Bible is a battle for the clear proclamation of God’s Word.
Notes: 1. Jean-Francois Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (Minneapolis: U. of Minnesota Press, 1979) 32-33. 2. Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997) 35. 3. Derrida, 17. 4. Douglas Groothuis, The Soul In CyberSpace (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997) 119. 5. Gene Veith, Jr., Postmodern Times (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1994) 67. 6. Veith, 55. 7. Michel Foucault, “Nietzche, Genealogy, History,” From Modernism to Postmodernism, Lawrence Cahoone, ed. ( Malden, Mass: Blackwell, 1996) 368. 8. Dan Story, Engaging The Closed Mind (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1999) 9.